By 1900, Industrialization and the idea of democracy had crept into Russian life, causing a disruption to autocratic rule of Czar Nicholas II. Thousands of factory workers became unsatisfied with working conditions and the number of hours they worked. Others were unsatisfied with the dictatorial rule of the czar.
In January, 1905, four workers belonging to the Assembly of Russian Workers (a labor union) were fired from the Putilov Iron Works in St. Petersburg. Head of the union, Father George Gapon called for a labor strike. It didn’t take long before 120,000 workers in the city had gone on strike. Gapon then gathered over 150,000 signatures on a petition demanding better work hours and conditions.
On Sunday, January 22, 1905, Gapon organized a march that would lead through the streets of St. Petersburg to the winter palace of the czar where he planned on delivering the petition to Nicholas II in person. Hearing of the march and protest, the czar and his family left the winter palace to the care of his uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir.
Gapon had notified the government of the march and that it would be peaceful, but Vladimir was still concerned and tried to prevent the march from happening. He placed soldiers throughout the city and had them fire warning shots into the air in hopes to dispersing the protest march, but it didn’t. As the protest approached the winter palace, the Cossacks standing guard outside began to panic. With swords and guns in hand the Cossacks charged the gathering protesters. This time those protesting fled but not before 100 had been killed another 300 wounded. The clash has since been dubbed Bloody Sunday and the beginning of the end of the reign of the Russian czars.
After Bloody Sunday, Nicholas II issued his October Manifesto where he promised civil freedoms like free speech, free press and the freedom to assemble and an elected legislative body. However, the czar waffled on his manifesto over the next few years. He would dissolve the parliament and strike down the freedoms and then re-instate them and then strike them down and so on.
The more this happened the more the Russian people hated their czar. To top it off, many Russians never liked or approved of Nicholas II marriage to Alexandra, the German granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. She was not one of their own and felt like she was indifferent to the Russian people. The Russian people also didn’t like Alexandra’s strange and mysterious mystic, Gregory Rasputin.
When World War I broke out in 1914, the wages for many Russian workers doubled, but the cost of living more than tripled and inflation was running wild. By 1917, long lines of women standing in line for food was a common sight throughout many Russian cities.
On February 22, 1917, using the Russian old style calendar, (March 7 on our Gregorian calendar) a huge strike was called by the workers of country’s massive industrial plant at Petrograd.
On March 8 (our calendar, February 23 on the Russian calendar), thousands of women left the food lines to join the strike. By the end of the day, Petrograd had been brought to a standstill by the protests of hundreds of thousands of workers and their wives.
Protesters carried signs that read: Down with the tsar! Down with the war! Down with the German woman!’
By March 10, the protesting workers began to destroy police stations and attacking the factories they worked at.
On March 11, the czar ordered the army in Petrograd to disperse the protest. The troops soon clashed and fired into the demonstrators but they refused to stop. Nicholas responded by again dissolving the Dumas – the parliament, but that still not help.
On March 14, 1917 (or March 1 on the Russian calendar), Czar Nicholas II abdicated his throne, turning the country over to a provincial government. Russia had been ruled by czars for nearly 400 years when Nicholas II abdicated. Sadly, the new leadership of Russia secretly pronounced a death sentence for the czar and his entire family and in July 1918, they were gunned down along with some of their servants.
Hence, it was this day, March 8, 1917, that the February Revolution in Russia began and ended the centuries of rule by the Romanov family and ushered in a new way of life in Russia that soon led to the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of communism.
Sources for the above include: February Revolution begins in Russia; Russian Revolution: February 1917; The February Revolution; The causes of the February Revolution; Episode 1: The February Revolution of 1917; The February Revolution – a summary; Remembering Bloody Sunday: The St. Petersburg Massacre that Changed Russia Forever;